Category Archives: Musing

Distracted

There is much out there to be concerned about. The recent track of Irma as the hurricane invaded Turks and Caicos, Puerto Rico, glanced past Cuba and made for the Florida Keys. At one point in time the trajectory was right up the middle of Florida with it’s sphere of rain, wind and havoc projected to cover the entire peninsula. Wow! We had all just witnessed Harvey who blew into Houston and decided to stay a while and dump on a low land that just happens to be important to our energy industry. Sigh!  And you have to say to yourself, wait! What? no one is talking about Jose who is sitting out there in the Atlantic. What about Jose?

Weather! No, it’s not the weather. I grew up in California. You knew you were in an earthquake when it hit. Up in Boston you knew you were in a major ice storm or blizzard–again–when it hit. Now you get 24/7 on the news channels. [Whose idea was it to give weather it’s own channel? So that we can constantly be alerted to all the natural disasters Mother Nature can dish out? Seriously?]  Like we can do anything about it. Well, yes, I concede. We can do something, we can be prepared. There would have been tremendous loss of life in Florida if there were no warnings and people just stayed.

I recently read Jacqueline Kelly’s The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate. Yes, the voice was extraordinary, the story a powerful one of accepting society as it is and yet being brave enough to know that there are changes needed. Calpurnia stays focused on the fact that she has a brain and wants to use it. And as her grandfather accepts her into his study, she finds support for her goals. Nicely Done.

Interestingly, the story also talks obliquely about the Galveston Flood of 1900. A cousin comes to stay because her Galveston house is destroyed. A veterinarian comes to town with a story of surviving the flood. And through it all you realize that all their information is weeks if not months old. And while people are shocked and horrified at what occurred, that buffer of time also lessens the personal anxiety and fears.

No buffer today. Journalists and reporters are out there, battered by the winds, lol, warning others to be careful. The weather is right in our homes, it’s on our social media as people check-in to say they are safe. It is fascinating and horrifying at the same time. And also, in retrospect, amusing, the loss of power does not seem to impact the WiFi and the posting continues.

It’s like there is this invisible tether attaching you to the TV. It is a massive distraction. It is mesmerizing. It is addicting. How can you not watch? And yet, there are still very importing things going on in your own life. But still. The anxiety of the reporting~’it’s coming this way, no, it’s going here, landfall will be at…the winds are…’.  You feel almost trapped by the ongoing coverage and what, dear god, if you miss something?

You feel like you’ve run a marathon when it is over. Time to regroup. Time to settle your mind. Get back to the tasks that are important. Time to focus.

Thank goodness I have a massive rewrite to concern me. After my critique sessions at the recent SCBWI Carolinas conference I was adrift, not really wanting to spend time. Upset at breaking my own rules about critiques, questioning now when I should have questioned then.

But life is a series of ‘do-overs’. So here I am. Getting my anxiety out and on ‘paper’. Moving on.

Write On!

 

One Week Later

At this time last week I was looking at the conference schedule and anticipating the heartfelt and honest keynote of Lisa Williams Kline, the final presentation of the 25th anniversary. It is always both a joy and a sadness to come to the end. We start the weekend on Thursday with pick ups of the intensive faculty, dinner and the short sweet time to savor all the work that has gone into making this weekend happen. Not forgotten, but put aside, are the mistakes in scheduling, the long hours, the continual communication, the problems with registration…the meal is cooked, it is time to sit and eat.

With a sold out crowd and many on the wait list, there is a certain amount of satisfaction in opening the conference officially Saturday morning and this year, with the extraordinary voice of Gary Schmidt leading the charge for us to remember always the children, to cherish, to tell the truth, that there is not one truth but many because there is not one child in one situation but many children in different situations and we as writers and illustrators are there to serve their stories.

When we ask our presenters, especially the editors, agents, art directors, we ask for a craft presentation. How do you describe voice? What is pacing and how does it add suspense? What is the structure of a story? Our PAL authors have proposed and based on what we have in space, and track we choose. It is difficult and yet not.

I get that we disappoint some. There’s not enough for illustrators. There should be more on chapter books. Why do you do mainly categories and not genres? Like anyone else developing and delivering a conference for individuals in the children’s lit field, we are limited by what is presented to us and what time we have to schedule. Sometimes I think, if we could eliminate first pages and first impressions, then….but I think there would be a boycott of the conference.

It is definitely not~bye, farewell, all done! Now it is one week later. The conference paraphernalia is accounted for and put on the shelves. The finances are tallied and the long report required by the main office is almost complete. An event report is required on the regional team list and that is done. Certificates of those who won contests, but did not attend, have been mailed out, as well as checks for contracts met.  A email blast on the conference wrap up has been completed and sent and, yes, there are still questions and emails have, too, been answered. My house is cleaned after being neglected for some days and the laundry is done!  Still to come is the tallying of the evaluations and sending to the faculty.

While a part in the back of my brain rails against the time spent in followup, I do remind myself that this is a time to reflect on what we can do better. To look at all the successes that have come from these conferences this team has delivered for this region- nine now for me.

This was the 25th conference for SCBWI Carolinas, the first conference in 1972 run by Fran Davis and we value the traditions set by Fran and Earl when he joined her in jointly running SCBWI Carolinas.  And, we are not done. We have three webinars upcoming and 2018 to initiate.

Not a bad 25th celebratory year!

The Fourth

Today we celebrate our independence. Our country’s birthday. But it wasn’t. The declaration wasn’t even signed this day, I believe the truth is, it was read this day. It’s not like there was this nine month growing from seed to country and then Happy Birthday, you are a country.

This was a process, long, contentious, war-wearying, irrational while yet being the most brilliant, most rational, most elegant solution to government that anyone had ever seen and will likely see again. There is no country on this planet that has been granted the freedoms and the opportunities that are available here. A wonder of wonders for two hundred forty one years.

Today we are divided not just politically but culturally and emotionally because of that WeThe People document and the constitution which did not come into existence until later. My American history is a bit rusty. Not my favorite historical period, truth be told, I have always found it burdened with too many overtones of emotional response, this is my country. It is hard to separate my pride and glee that I was lucky enough to be born here, grow up here, work here, live here.  And, whenever I travel, now or in the past, I am always stuck by the fact that this is where I want to be. Living abroad was an interesting idea, but not one I would take seriously. That is just me.

In the seventies, during the Vietnam war, it was ‘love it or leave it,’ an extreme sentiment to be sure, and not one I agreed with. Because of, maybe in spite of this sentiment, it feels like we have spent the past forty years trying to be more like everyone else, Europe, especially. In my research in the colonial period of Africa, I find that Eurocentrism so strange. It is a view that Europeans are right, they are perfect and the rest of us, from the Americas to the East and the Mideast  to the Africans, are all just slightly less; undereducated, under civilized, and undergoverned. The change in political parties running the US government can be seen as a repudiation;  that many are not willing to abdicate their inalienable rights to a political elite in Washington. That we want to be less governed. We are not undereducated, but perhaps not well taught. Not undercivilized, but civilized differently.

I find it to be unconscionable that some may want to deny what are my inalienable rights for a supposed, in their discretion, a greater good. My rights are not subject to anyone else’s suppositions!  I am not a revolutionary, never could be. Well, that is wrong, I could be persuaded, not sure what I could do at this point, but….

Today, in honor  of all those who fought with word and deed, and those who fought  with gun and sword, who believed all those long years ago, that humans were and are able to think for themselves and to govern themselves with enlightenment, facility and courage, we owe ourselves and our children better than what we  have now.

This is about me, and you, my family, and yours. This is about a country that was founded on the basic truth of acceptance. Acceptance that this is a just and viable form for govenering a free people.

More than happy birthday, thank you.

Love

Love can be wielded like a cudgel. There is the commercial Love has no Labels. Love is about diversity and inclusion. From the my Baltimore Catechism we learned of the three theological virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity; faith in our God, hope in the promise of heaven, and charity which is benevolent, disinterested, and generous, bringing forth friendship and communion. Most say Faith, Hope and Love. But no. Charity– ‘love one another as I have loved you.’ Open, sacrificial, giving, no strings, no tag lines.

Recently there was a TED talk by a Dr. Mary Donohue, a ‘preeminent keynote speaker on multigenerational workplace’.  Dr. Donohue’s TED talk is about the ways in which the other generations communicate enabling one generation to talk to the other so, in her words “work doesn’t suck!”  She uses a phrase like ‘conversation clever,’ describing the generations as builders, doers, adapters, brilliant and then neatly goes on to prove each point with very commercial examples. Sigh. Her talk is clever, practiced, polished and gives each generation something to like about itself and dislike about the others. Supposedly this will help communication but I don’t think it will advance love.

The way we use love  in a commercial campaign is about the same. Slick, practiced, polished and neatly pigeonholed to show it is all right for same sex love, to love a sibling who is disabled, to love one of another ethnicity. And I get it. I don’t think that is the love that will save the planet–politically or culturally.

In my faith Charity is the greatest of them all. In this world Truth is the greatest of them all.  There is the ideal that  love will solve our problems. I think of a banner my sister gave me while in college. We laughed about it because it is so real, so true. It is easy to say that love will conquer all. But no. Not really. It won’t conquer. It can’t even alleviate the distress. Just look at our national politics and all who say that they only want everyone to love one another. Do we see everyone as willing to be  ‘benevolent and open’?

I can say I love everyone. Love is so much easier. But truth, truth is the coin of love, it is what makes love potent, desirable, unshakable. Truth is harder than love because you may have to admit to a lie, one that may have protected you, that made you look good, that served your interest.

Why this interest in truth?

In the middle grade mysteries I write, while love is the emotion that drives the character, it is the truth that finds the killer. A character can grow in love, but it is in finding the truth that lets the main character understand and be ready to take responsibility, to grow up. Putting  together means, motive and opportunity and identifying the killer is to find the truth. Only truth breaks through.

In nonfiction it is the weeding out the propaganda, the bias, the self-interest, both in studying the historical figure and in assaying the author. In nonfiction, with a historical perspective, truth can be victim to the sham of love. It is the sham of love that  wrapped a whole people allowing them to  suffer totalitarianism, brutality and oppression for decades. Only truth will break through.

 

Monday

The quad at Villa Cabrini was always in the shade in the morning. We were deep inside the grounds, up the oak lined front drive, past the grotto of the Virgin Mary, around the small holly lined circular drive to the imposing marble stairs. The front of the school was classrooms below, nuns living quarters up stairs. The building was solid brick, meant to withstand the ages, Mother Cabrini no slouch in considering the long run.

When we were late <which was a lot, because Mom was never on time> we dashed through the front door, the wooden screen door slamming behind. We’d come out in the middle of the quad, right near where the Angelus bell was rung every single day at noon. Mother Amedia, tall, thin, very Italian, used to call me Brigante…although she well knew my name, she well knew me.

When we were early, which for us was on time, we came up the back drive, lined  with eucalyptus trees, leaves dripping down, bark hanging like worried scabs, into the lower parking lot, past the fishpond, alongside the chapel and into the quad. Maybe if we were early enough I would enter the back of the chapel, drop to one knee on the cold marble tile and whisper the prayer to St. Anthony, because I was always losing something. Sometimes it was just precautionary, Anthony and I went way back.

In the quad, we lined up by class, eighth grade closest to the playground, kindergarteners way at the end although their class room was on the other side of the kitchen above the eighth grade room.  It would be cool, that California cool of the 1950s, desert cool, knowing that the day would be warm, hot, but this was a shiver up your spine, glad you had your sweater, the one you wouldn’t be able to find, maybe, by the end of the day, cool.  Then over the loud speakers would blare a John Philip Sousa march. I loved those marches, the beat of that music started the pace of my day. The nuns probably thought it started our blood, but I’m a morning person and by the time we lined up to march, heard the announcements and then the music, I was way past the start of my day. The march would begin. And we would start to move our feet. We would be lined up in rows of two, peel off toward the back, come down in rows of four, peel off toward the back, come down in rows of two and head for our class room by grade.

The first morning of school was always my favorite. August had been hot, always hot, September would be too, but that first morning! Shoes polished. Collars and cuffs crisp. Blue uniform pressed. Sweater warm. A new book bag, sharpened pencils, new binder, with note paper, and a new lunch pail. Now that was heaven. It was ordered in a way my mind could never be. It was consistent year after year.

I didn’t know why I loved it. Maybe it was because it was the movement. Maybe it was because it was outside before long hours indoors. Maybe it was the music. Maybe it was all of that but more. Maybe that is why I have always loved Mondays and Morning.